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Liberal docs counter the A.M.A.

From NBC's James Rankin
Health-care reform is obviously a hot topic these days -- and not just on Pennsylvania Avenue. As legislation begins to emerge from Capitol Hill, advocacy groups across the spectrum have turned up the heat in an attempt to sway public and Congressional opinion.

Per the New York Times, the American Medical Association threw down the gauntlet this week with a statement opposing a public-government insurance option. The statement, in the form of comments submitted to the Senate Finance Committee, says such an option "threatens to restrict patient choice by driving out private insurers."

Video: President Barack Obama has been pushing for health care reform but what will his plan look like when finished? A Hardball panel debates.

But the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank, wants you to know that the AMA doesn't speak for all physicians. Doctors for America, a left-leaning organization of approximately 12,000 doctors, joined CAP today in telling reporters it fully supports a public/government option.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, president of Doctors for America, said physicians "see every day examples of how the private-insurance industry is failing our patients."

Murthy did acknowledge the enormous influence of the 250,000-member AMA, but urged Americans to look deeper than the opinions of industry leaders. 

"We are a grassroots organization," Murthy said. "It's important to see what the physicians on the ground are saying."

Despite his fierce advocacy for a public/government option, Murthy did leave open the possibility of a compromise. When asked about his thoughts on the co-op plan proposed by Sen. Kent Conrad, Murthy said he cared less about what the plan was called and more about how it helped patients. 

"If there are options on the table that Congress would like to consider, and they want the input of physicians," he said, "we would be willing to provide that input."

*** UPDATE *** As NBC's Mike Viqueira reports, the AMA has since tried to clarify its position. Nancy H. Nielsen, MD, president of the group says: "Make no mistake: Health reform that covers the uninsured is AMA's top priority this year. Every American deserves affordable, high-quality health care coverage. Today's New York Times story creates a false impression about the AMA's position on a public plan option in health care reform legislation. The AMA opposes any public plan that forces physicians to participate, expands the fiscally-challenged Medicare program or pays Medicare rates, but the AMA is willing to consider other variations of a public plan that are currently under discussion in Congress. This includes a federally chartered co-op health plan or a level playing field option for all plans. The AMA is working to achieve meaningful health reform this year and is ready to stand behind legislation that includes coverage options that work for patients and physicians."